Drawing Restraint 9

Drawing Restraint 9 is the anticipated collaboration between Matthew Barney and his girlfriend Björk. The Drawing Restraint series started back in 1987 when Barney was still a student. The idea behind the series is to perform while subject to some form of restraint, like the confinement of a half dozen brawling satyrs in the back of a limousine. In Drawing Restraint 9 he focuses his restrictions on creativity.

His latest film does not achieve the gold standard Barney established with the Creemaster cycle. It is a lot looser and, actually, much less restrained. The Creemasters were structured on a fully realized web of interconnected symbolism. For instance, Creemaster 2 wove together the Book of Mormon, Utah the beehive state, the Chicago World’s Fair, the Columbia Glacier, Mormon serial killer Gary Gilmore, who requested death by firing squad, and everything else in between. According to its press kit, Drawing Restraint 9 has only a single layer of allegory, “rebirth, physical transformation, and the possibility of new forms.” For the 5 Creemasters, Barney rigorously designed and choreographed every element. With Drawing Restraint 9, he makes due with many things as they are. The real and the contrived, the industrial and the ritualistic collide resulting in something rather humdrum instead of spectacular.

Drawing Restraint 9 depicts in tedious detail the “transformative ritual,” using the port of Nagasaki, the Japanese whaling shop Nisshin Maru, and a hundred or so Japanese longshoremen and sailors. Barney covers his industrial-size canvas with majestically slow and sweeping aerial shots as the crew prepares the ship for the arrival and ceremonial mating of the “Occidental Visitors,” Björk and Barney.

The Occidental Visitors arrive separately by boat and are kept apart. In unsettling close-up, they are bathed, shorn and dressed. They totter on bone shoes under the weight of layers of fur kimonos into a chamber where a Zen Priest unites them in a tea ceremony. Although the hold is empty, the priest insists there is a whale coursing through the ship.

Liquefied whale blubber (in the form of petroleum jelly) is poured into a steel form. After it sets and the frame is removed, it cracks and drops like an avalanche of fat. This precipitates a violent storm and the same slimy ooze floods the chamber holding the Occidental Visitors. They embrace in the amber goo and proceed to hack away at each other’s lower limbs with flensing knives until they are left with fishtails. In the last shot, two arching whales follow the ship through a sea of icebergs into Antarctica.

In my opinion, the project was rushed and not well thought out. Consequently, it is thin on fresh ideas and imagery. Björk’s “folktronic” music score, blending traditional Japanese forms with tired Björkisms, is not particularly evocative or memorable. Sometimes, it is even an irritant to the image. Guess what? Even Björk and Matthew Barney can have a less than brilliant collaboration. (Linda Feesey)

Dir. Matthew Barney

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